By Dr. Bill Thomas, ChangingAging.org
Some people hear the name “Green House” and they automatically picture a ranch-style house and a picket fence. Sometimes Green Houses do look exactly like that; but there are Green Houses in cities too. The nation’s first urban Green Houses are in Chelsea, Mass., at the Leonard Florence Center for Living and I recently dropped by for my first visit.
When the Chelsea Jewish Foundation decided to adopt the Green House Project model they had a problem. Located just outside of Boston, they had very limited real estate to work with. This called for innovative architects to build the nation’s first multi-story Green House Project homes.
The architecture firm DiMella/Shaffer took the features of a traditional Green House and translated them into a unique apartment building featuring two Green House homes with 10 private bedrooms on each floor. I got a tour with lead architect Diane Dooley, who showed me how state-of-the-art technology helps residents like Steve Saling live independently.
Steve lives in one of two Green House apartments that are also remarkable for being the first in the nation created for people living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and MS. Although Steve can no longer speak or move independently, infra-red sensors give him complete control to open doors, turn lights on and off, adjust his thermostat and home theater.
But the most remarkable thing about the Leonard Florence Center is not the building and technology — it’s the people. It is people — passionate, talented, beautiful people — that bring a Green House to life.
In order for people to build deep and enduring relationships they need a protected space that has both an inside and an outside. And a place that belongs to them that is separate from the places they share with others.
Private entrance to a Green House home
Check out this photo. It might not look like much to some people but it is beautiful to me.
Doors serve a vital function. They divide inside from outside. They create a space where people can belong, where they can learn to trust and even love each other.
What lies behind those doors? I am honored to share with you a brief video clip of a scene that unfolded behind those doors. It is lunchtime and the elders, the Shahbazim and their honored guests have gathered around a big wooden table for a meal. Take 25 seconds to experience the feeling of a Green House.
This place and these people are doing what human beings do naturally. They are making and being sustained by a genuine human community.
Life is good.